I frequent cemeteries. Really. One of my favorite photography pastimes involves hanging out at huge formal memorial parks, inner city garden cemeteries, old forgotten, weed-infested country graveyards, and illusive prairie burial grounds. Scouting out the towering artistically sculpted monuments with their ornate decorations or unusual headstone inscriptions definitely lures this photographer. Most current cemetery plots are boring and uninspiring with their ground-level headstones and the intrusive vase stuffed with gaudy silk flowers, each individual lost among the checker-board landscape.
Now take the well-kept Odell Cemetery in southeast Nebraska. The immaculate and manicured prairie cemetery is far from uninviting during the last weekend in May. Divided only by the entrance road, this final resting place for hundreds bestows for visitors a blooming spectacle of old-time peonies. Masses of large frilly red, pink, purple, and white blossoms drape themselves across and topple over the hundreds of tombstones etched with names like Pavlik, Cacek, Jajek, Kadlec, Novotny, and Zabokrtsky. The annual Memorial Weekend showy floral explosion of color and lacy textures are visible testimonies and legacies of loved ones. It is a floral coming out unnoticed by many passersby, and one elaborately flourishing among stone, rock, and cedar trees.
Saturday, May 24, 2008—The late afternoon sun sank across the prairie horizon, flowery shadows tapped gently on each headstone. Sheltered mostly from the Nebraska wind, the extravagant palette of peony color contrasted the stark gray headstones. Each distinct yet personal profuse bloom elaborately exhibited for capturing with camera lens while others enjoyed only with cupped hands and deep inhalation. Two hours of poppin’ peony photography, the silence of the floral party intruded only by the shutter button. Tramping from fragrant grave to fragrant grave, flitting and dashing about much like a butterfly longing for the next sweet moment, the smorgasbord of floral diversity savored with each click. Portion control nonexistent.
Ants crawled along my forearm as I wedged stolen blooms of perfection in makeshift containers, others gripped tightly with hands or between feet. Sweet scents permeated the Saab and filtered through the evening breeze as I slumped deep within the passenger seat, breathless but content. Floral bouquets are normally brought to the cemetery, not taken from. However, on this occasion the few appropriated beauties were photographically preserved in my light box during the next 48 hours. Historically speaking, their perpetual testimonies and legacies shown in the floral portraits below.
Additional peony poppin’ Memorial Day Weekends—someday—with another 800-mile trek. The sun’s rays may have vanished with those 2008 twilight hours in one of Nebraska’s best-kept secrets, but my love for the elegant peony remains steadfast. What a glorious evening garden party in a cemetery!THESE BLOOMING FRIENDS By L. Young Correthers (1934) The peony is a jolly flower, She’s nice to hold and touch. She always grows in bunches, For she likes herself so much. She sometimes looks untidy And when dressed in red looks hot— It’s because a peony always wears Every petticoat she’s got.
Thanks for sharing a special moment with me in a garden cemetery. More peony portraits can be seen at www.corinthrose.com under Flowers. Also, be sure to linger at the current slideshow for additional peony images. “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:12